When the 27th Volhynian Home Army Infantry Division was created in January 1944, it was joined by... a battalion of the German Hilfspolizei, made up of Polish volunteers who wanted to obtain weapons and uniforms from the Germans.
The situation in Volhynia in mid-1943 was particularly difficult. It was a region inhabited by people of different nations and religions, with complicated history and intense inter-ethnical animosities, fueled by changes connected with the war.
In September 1939, the Volhynian Voivodeship of the Second Polish Republic was seized and occupied by the Soviets, and in the summer of 1941 by the Germans, who made the territory a part of the newly created Reichskommissariat Ukraine (RKU). It was a very big and densely populated region extending from Brest and Volodymyr-Volynskyi in the west to Poltava and Berdyansk in the east. It had its own German administration with the capital in Rivne, the biggest city of the former Volhynian Voivodeship.
Apart from the official German administration, there were underground organizations fighting against the occupant on the territory of Volhynia (Home Army structures for the Volhynia region, or the Ukrainian Insurgent Army [UPA], created by Ukrainian nationalists). Together with the growing number of crimes committed by the latter organization against the Polish communities, Poles also spontaneously formed self-defense groups to protect their people. In time, also communist partisans, supported by the Soviet Union, more and more strongly marked their presence in the region. The effect of all this was total war of everyone against everyone: Polish underground units fought with both German occupation forces as well as their Ukrainian collaborators, and with UPA bands. Simultaneously, attempts were made to fight against communist partisans.
Everyone Against Everyone
The Germans willingly employed the local Ukrainian population to help run the Reichskommissariat. To impose order, they created the so-called auxiliary police (Hilfspolizei) uniformed formations made up of collaborating volunteers, initially almost exclusively Ukrainian. Many people of this nationality, mainly connected with UPA’s nationalist environment, decided to cooperate with the Germans.
Auxiliary police Schutzmannschaft units were almost entirely composed of and commanded by Ukrainians, but they executed orders of the occupation authorities. Police battalions assisted the Germans in brutal pacifications of villages, executions, helped to liquidate ghettos and fight with the Polish underground and the Soviet partisans. In time, the policemen also started to undertake independent actions against Polish civilians.
The Poles living in Volhynia, on the other hand, hardly ever cooperated with the German administration. The leadership of the Home Army perceived such behavior negatively. In the Volodymyr-Volynskyi region, for example, the Polish underground members were strictly forbidden to join the German occupation structures. It was treated as collaboration with the occupant and betrayal. There were still cases when people decided to cooperate, if only not to be sent to Germany for forced labor, but this practice never became as systemic and extensive as in the case of the Ukrainians. Later, though, after the horrifying slaughter in Volhynia, the local Home Army commanders were forced to ease their very strict attitude towards this issue.
In March 1943, many Ukrainian auxiliary police units, almost all across Volhynia, deserted, joining the underground and UPA structures. This time was also the beginning of the Volhynian slaughter, aiming at wiping out the local Polish community. In the summer of 1943, the murders reached their peak: according to the evaluations, in July and August UPA bands killed over 20,000 Poles.
The situation forced the Polish people living in Volhynia to organize self-defense groups to protect the local civilians against Ukrainian attacks. Due to mass desertion, the Germans started to fill the shortages in auxiliary police units with Poles, some of whom accepted this opportunity to save their own and their families’ lives. There were also instances when young Poles joined the police units on purpose, in order to be able to protect the threatened villages.
The local Home Army structures found themselves in a very difficult position. The commanders had two options: either to let the Polish community be entirely wiped out, or to start – even if only in a limited extent – cooperation with the occupant. Therefore, they began to turn a blind eye to Poles who joined the ranks of Hilfspolizei to protect themselves and their loved ones. More than often, after some time individuals or even groups of Polish people deserted the police units to join the Polish underground, taking their police uniforms and weapons with them.
There are also known cases of cooperation on a higher level. Władysław “Hora” Filar, a Volhynian Home Army soldier and a historian documenting the partisan activity in the region, describes a situation from July 1943, when a delegation of Volhynian Poles turned to a German commissioner to ask for protection of the local community against UPA groups. The commissioner, due to the lack of available forces, refused, but promised to transfer some armament to the Polish self-defense groups, on the condition that they remain under German command. It was a hard nut to crack, but the regional Home Army commander, Sylwester “Biały” Brokowski, accepted this offer. “It was established that the Germans will supply weapons for 200–250 people, who, under the command of Polish NCOs, will reinforce self-defense posts, and about 300 people will form a tight unit to operate in the field,” describes the events Filar.
The company-strong unit created in this way was called the Polish gendarmerie. It was to protect Polish people and fight against UPA. In practice, however, the Germans used it also to patrol and protect chosen objects in various cities. The Polish gendarmerie was joined by Poles from villages burnt by the Ukrainians. There were so many volunteers, desperate and horrified by UPA’s crimes, that a second company was created in Maciejów near Kowel.
Volunteers of the Underground
In November 1943, Germans combined the two gendarmerie companies and reorganized them, creating an auxiliary police battalion number 107 (Schutzmannschaft Battalion 107). The unit was stationing in Maciejów (about 15 km west of Kowel, today Łuków in Ukraine), where they also had a training center. Contrary to regular police forces, Hilfspolizei were militarized units accommodated in barracks, whose members had to complete basic military training to learn, i.a. how to handle military weapons.
Polish underground cells existed in both companies from the very beginning. They remained in contact with the district government delegate. Trusted activists of the underground were sent to the battalion, among them Władysław Filar and Witold Iżykowski, who led the conspiracy group. Among conspirators, there was also a veteran of September 1939, Ryszard “Lwie Serce” Kasprowicz, who was fluent in German. He became the commander of one of the battalion’s companies. He contacted local Home Army structures through a parish priest from Kowel, Father Antoni “Prawdzic” Piotrowski, and at the presbytery in Maciejów.
The unit had a very active agitation cell. As Władysław Filar wrote: “Systematic work started within the ranks of the battalion. Particular attention was paid to fostering patriotism and developing awareness that the current state of the battalion is just a step on the way to the independent Homeland. During meetings in the common room, there were patriotic talks and lectures, poetry of Adam Mickiewicz and Juliusz Słowacki was recited, fragments of works written by Henryk Sienkiewicz and other authors were read, Polish military and scout songs were sung. All that influenced the attitudes, minds, and views of the young people, fostered their patriotism and prepared them for the tasks and responsibilities towards their Homeland awaiting them in the near future.”
Soldiers Gone into the Woods
A breakthrough moment for the battalion was the beginning of Operation Tempest (akcja Burza) in Volhynia. The mobilization order for the local underground was given on January 15, 1944 by Col Kazimierz “Luboń” Bąbiński, the commander of the Home Army Volhynia District. Five days later, the Polish conspiracy in the battalion received an order passed over by Officer Cadet Antoni “Osik” Kazimierski – the unit is to relocate to the gathering region south of Kowel.
The whole action had to be very well planned. This proved to be difficult, as Germans and other units of auxiliary police were stationing in the town. On top of that, the battalion’s command and the Germans accommodated at the barracks had to be neutralized, it was necessary to quickly prepare the transport of weapons, ammunition and equipment, gather posts and patrols sent out to the field, and then secretly lead the unit out of town.
Time was of the essence, so the action was carried out at the night of January 20 to 21, 1944. The conspirators were divided into groups and directed to execute particular tasks. Some of them announced an alarm at the battalion, woke the soldiers, and led them out to the meeting spot. Others took care of disarming the Germans, who were then locked in the barracks’ prison. Late at night, the battalion was led out of the barracks, along the road through Zasmyki to the town of Suszybaba. The journey was hard due to the cold winter weather and the necessity to transport equipment on 20 carts.
Despite the obstacles, the whole action was very successful, without any personnel losses. Grzegorz “Gryf” Fedorowski made the following conclusion: “We immediately gained several hundred trained soldiers, equipped and armed so well that it was possible for us to additionally arm the boys that joined later.” The unit was sworn in on January 22, 1944 in Suszybaba, and later the soldiers were divided to reinforce various battalions of the 27th Volhynian Home Army Division.
autor zdjęć: NAC, Bundesarchiv